Posts Tagged ‘Batman’

Batman & Robin (1997)

Dir: Joel Schumacher | Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Uma Thurman | US Thriller, 125′

Interestingly enough the venerable Leonard Maltin gave Batman & Robin a higher rating (two and a half stars) in his Movie Guide than Batman Returns (two stars), which over the years has probably caused plenty of outrage in some quarters; but with which I happily concur. As a fan of the TV series I never thought Tim Burton’s Batman movies were that great to begin with – and anyone who says Batman & Robin is the worst movie ever made should be forced to watch Catwoman – so I’d like to say a few words in support of this deliriously Big Dumb Movie.

Yeah, I know, the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan movies are “DARK”!! Big Deal…! They certainly take themselves very seriously; but this isn’t exactly Eugene O’Neill we’re talking about. Sure, Joel Schumacher couldn’t make a decent movie if his life depended upon it; but at least the money is all up there on the screen (it certainly looks as if it cost the $125 million Warner Bros. squandered on it). It contains a touching swansong from Michael Gough’s Alfred (who’s late sister Peg in an old photograph is actually Gloria Stuart, who played Old Rose in the same year’s Titanic), has a cool score by Elliot Goldenthal and swish special effects; and it’s refreshing to see a recent Hollywood movie that actually looks as if it was shot in Technicolor rather than just various shades of brown and beige.

And it has Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Along with Jim Carrey’s Riddler, Thurman’s Poison Ivy is one of the two best villains in the entire eighties & nineties franchise: every bit the supple, purring jezebel that Michelle Pfeiffer’s whining crybaby of a Catwoman should have been but wasn’t. Elliot Goldenthal’s smooth saxophone theme further heightens her sinuous impact, while her sleek green one-piece (happily without nipples) actually improves upon all the previous versions; making her the only female character since Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman to wear a costume slinkier and sexier on the big screen than she did in the comic strip.

There are just two snags; and in keeping with the gargantuan nature of this epic folly they’re big ones. The first – Schwarzenegger being the bigger star – is that Poison Ivy gets only a fraction of the screen time devoted to his boring Mr Freeze. The other snag – surprise surprise – is Schumacher again.

Schumacher was openly gay and liked the rest of us to know all about it. But whereas gay directors like Pedro Almodóvar and François Ozon regularly populate their films with strong and glamorous women, in Batman & Robin we instead get nipples and codpieces adorning the Dynamic Duo in tandem with a lack of interest on the director’s part in Thurman’s thrilling little minx that amounts to negligence. (Schumacher shoots enormous close-ups of the Bat-Trio’s butts as they get dressed for action but repeatedly passes up opportunities to show us Poison Ivy from behind. Note the way that she sweeps in to meet Schwarzenegger in one scene with the camera tracking along behind her as she walks the length of the room photographed full-length from behind AND SHE’S WEARING A FUR COAT DOWN TO HER ANKLES; which she promptly casts off, never to wear it again! And later she places her boot on the bottom rung of a ladder and on the very frame that she starts to turn away from the camera to begin climbing SCHUMACHER CUTS!!)

But enough survives from the detritus to make this a far better way to waste a couple of hours than other overproduced dreck like Armageddon or Pearl Harbor. @RichardChatten

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Batman: The Movie (1966)

Dir: Leslie H. Martinson | Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Merlwether, Cesar Romero | US, 105′

Incredible as it may seem, it was just over fifty years ago today that this movie originally premiered at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. It’s a substantially different entity from the TV original, to which it doesn’t do justice. The series looks better each passing year with its clean lines and pristine, saturated colours which more resemble the dynamism and visual clarity of an actual comic strip than the murky recent big screen offerings. Despite the supposedly juvenile demographic of this ‘Batman’, it has more literate dialogue than any modern superhero movie: could you imagine Christian Bale’s Batman possessing the vocabulary to employ a phrase like “human jetsam”?

But at 105 minutes the movie feels overstretched and rambling, and I miss the narration by producer William Dozier that was so much part of the TV series. The bigger budget meant the producers could splash out on The Penguin’s submarine along with the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle; which came in handy as embellishments to seasons Two & Three, but which for me slow the action down (I find The Penguin’s sub very confining during the latter half of the movie, and staging the final punch-up on it’s narrow deck feels more cramped than similar showdowns in the TV series; especially as it’s obviously shot on the studio tank in front of a painted backdrop of the sky). On the plus side there are none of those endless back stories for each villain that take up so much of more recent Batman movies; although the fact that The Catwoman is already a “known supercriminal” with a long career in larceny already behind her, yet Batman doesn’t immediately recognise her at a press conference masquerading as Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff of the ‘Moscow Bugle’ really does strain credibility, even by the standards of an unabashed piece of hokum like this.

An incidental advantage the 1966 movie has over both the TV series and the later movies is in the characterisations. In one of the Tim Burton movies Batman casually turns a flamethrower on a few goons; which is really not acceptable conduct for the guy who’s supposed to be the Good Guy. This Batman risks his own life to spare a family of ducks; which is as it should be. Adam West spends much more time as Bruce Wayne in the movie than he usually does in the TV series, and as Wayne is permitted a more fiery temperament than Batman ever displays; as when he loses his temper and attempts to head-butt The Riddler. All those narcissistic egos cooped up together on Penguin’s submarine also generate friction: I particularly liked The Joker’s admonition when it falls to The Riddler to post a ransom demand: “And none of your stupid riddles, do you understand? Make those messages plain!”, and the droll nautical exchange between Penguin and two of his goons (probably ad libbed by Meredith), “Yo Ho!” – “Yo Ho What?” – “SIR!”.

And then there’s Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman.

Julie Newmar being unavailable, Ms Meriwether stepped into Newmar’s ankle boots (minus the gold chain and medallion around her neck that Newmar always wore) at the very last minute, and director Leslie Martinson initially had to shoot around her; yet another reason why she actually has so disappointingly little screen time uniformed as The Catwoman compared to the interminable Kitka footage. But from this liability a special strength inadvertently derives, and the film’s take on The Catwoman is both unique and closer to the comic strip; never to be repeated.

When the movie was made Julie Newmar had so far made only one isolated appearance in Season One; so this represents only The Catwoman’s second appearance among the premier league baddies (whereas Gorshin’s appearance as The Riddler is almost a swansong; after being nominated for an Emmy he fell out with the producers over money and made only one more appearance in the series in Season Three). Because all the usual lovey-dovey stuff between Batman and The Catwoman that Julie Newmar found so boring is reserved for the scenes with “Miss Kitka”, for the first and last time The Catwoman herself is portrayed purely as a ruthless career criminal bent on the defeat of the Dynamic Duo, her mind solely on her work with a single-mindedness far removed from the flirtatiousness and playful good humour of Newmar and Kitt. (More like an actual cat in fact.)

To this day most people still don’t get it that the Bruce/Kitka ‘romance’ was purely a calculated ruse on the part of The Catwoman to lure The Caped Crusader into a trap. Furthermore, while Newmar deliciously played The Catwoman with the light of madness forever dancing in her eyes (and alone of all the actresses to have played her seemed genuinely weird enough to have chosen to adopt a clinging wet-look catsuit as her regular working clothes), Meriwether by contrast remains uncomplicatedly mean & sociopathic. Both Newmar and Kitt seem authentically to have clawed their way from the wrong side of the tracks; but Meriwether has the insolent air of entitlement of a prom queen gone bad, thus cutting a much more incongruous figure as a grown woman in the fetish gear Newmar and Kitt seemed born to wear (as worn by them, wet-look black stretch lamé wasn’t merely a fabric it was a weapon!), in which Meriwether marches about rather than slinks. (SPOILER COMING: Any healthy, red-blooded male, by the way, would ultimately be far more likely to be thrilled than heart-broken to find the woman he’s been stepping out with attired as The Catwoman.) Of the three, Meriwether also most resembles those coldly handsome, high-cheekboned harpies that regularly populate comic books.

Gorshin’s Riddler is plainly headed for a padded cell rather than jail when this is all over, with Meriwether’s Catwoman the least flamboyantly crazy of the four: just another criminal to be caged. When Bruce Wayne warns the assembled baddies that “I swear by heaven. If you’ve harmed that girl. I’ll kill you all!”, unusually for a female adversary The Catwoman is obviously included in this threat. And when finally unmasked and batcuffed, Meriwether’s Catwoman reveals herself in her true colours by showing not the faintest flicker of remorse as she is led away pouting to the slammer; unrepentantly heartless and irredeemably evil to the end. Way to Go, Lee!! @RIchardChatten

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